I have to go to Switzerland. I don’t mean that to sound how it sounds. Spoilt boy. But still it’s true, I mostly have to. I have made an arrangement, an agreement, I am expected. And I will go. In two weeks, maybe three. Arrive on Saturday and leave on the Friday. February in the Alps. Not so bad. Abandon a cedar-strewn and dusty Austin for a few days and then come back.
We have to go to Switzerland and we will take our boy with us. He’s eleven. Not so bad. I’m told they are partial to children there. For him it means a week out of his school life he will never have to repay.
We are going to a small town, an hour from Zurich. St. Gallon. My wife has been there many times before (she is not my wife). It is as you imagine it.
We will take ourselves to Switzerland. By which I mean our materials and distractions, electrical items, digital neccessities, essential natures. There will be suitcases but the other stockpiles also. The very idea of otherwise is intolerable, and impossible anyway. Why worry?
In the hour after being officially invited we had ordered two Posturepedic plane pillows (I will go without) and a pair of simulation leather walking boots, size seven. A box of converters that connect to Swiss walls, guaranteeing us access. Books that allow you almost immediate control over the German language. Three airline tickets also. Or six I suppose. Round-trip. Return. Not bad.
In the mornings, before lunch, I have a tendency to walk. I do this walking, most often, with another man who lives locally. His name is Joe, but he is not altogether typical. I like Joe. I suspect he may be by others considered difficult. This is one of the things I like about him.
We have two walks, typically. The shorter of the two we take more often than the longer. While walking we talk. Some days more him, others more me. If I had to estimate (for purposes I can’t imagine) I would say that I talk more than him. On balance. I’m not certain that either of us consider the mathematics of this too much.
The longer of our walks involves reaching a coffee shop, drinking tea, and then walking back. The shorter, and more common, is less of a return and more of a round-trip. In the loop from his house there is a hill that connects the two largely parallel roads of our choosing called Wilkie (Road). It starts at the bottom and over the course of perhaps a quarter of a mile it reaches the top. Neither us talk much while walking up this Wilkie. It is very steep.
I told Joe about Switzerland. I didn’t want to wait until we were walking to mention it for fear that he would think it odd I should wait to somehow drop this subject into our conversation. Truthfully, it would not be odd. We do our talking while walking, this is what we do. The only other communication we have of any meaningful kind is by way of text messaging.
I will be sitting at my desk in my house and my phone will make the loud and distinctive noise that tells me Joe has sent me a message. It does not need to be loud because my room is always quiet, nor does it have to be distinctive (I have assigned Joe a particular noise) because no one else, apart from my wife who is always in the next room, her office, has my phone number.
It is true that my wife could text message me if she chose to, but she does not. In fact my wife knowing the phone number associated with my phone is a largely useless piece of information that she has stored in her head. Perhaps she hasn’t bothered to. I could ask her, but she might think that was odd. My asking.
“Old Man Wilkie?”
“Good. We’re going to Switzerland. But not for a few weeks.”
This is how I told him about it. To get it out of the way.
I don’t believe Joe has been to Switzerland. He was born in Oklahoma and it seems a number of people living in Texas once were. There is a rivalry but it’s mostly one-sided. He has been to Italy. He went last year. The reason, purpose and eventuality of his going was something we talked about a lot at the time. He appreciated it there.
Joe’s other name is Dickens. It’s one of the things I like about him. Good name. He’s quite well-known by a number of people who don’t actually know him. Although the reasons they know him is not the same as the reason I do. Joe, like all of us, is many things. I have been to Italy also, but that was a long time ago.
I have been to lots of places actually, but then I had the advantage of coming from somewhere else to begin with.
As we walked up Wilkie we tried think of all the things people typically think about when they think about Switzerland, but haven’t themselves yet been there. The first few came quite quickly. Chocolate. Money. Knives (Swiss Army), Snow. Cows with bells. Ostensible neutrality. We ran out by the time we reached the top of the hill. Both breathless.
A man called Renzo invited Joe to Italy. He took his wife, but left his children (two boys) behind. Renzo knew about Joe before Joe knew him. Renzo is an Italian man who likes American country music, as do many of his friends. Joe tells the story of one of these friends who had come to Indiana for some commercial reason, and tried to buy some Dickie overalls at a shop there but he was told to order them via the Internet. He wanted to buy them in America. He was disappointed.
These men in Italy know a considerable amount about country music. Renzo plays in a band that plays this music for these men to listen to. He came across Joe Dickens (who he did not know) playing his guitar in a video that had been recorded in a bar in Austin and put up on the same internet you can buy overalls from wherever you live. Renzo invited Joe Dickens to come and play his guitar in Italy. Which he did, about a year ago, athough we didn’t, at that time, go through a list of things he might have expected to see there when he went. I regret that and it’s too late now.